When I wrote my last piece on female wet dreams, I received many requests to add a portion on vaginal discharge as well. However, since vaginal discharge is a common quandary among Muslim women and a subject of controversy among the scholars, I wanted to write a separate entry on this.
Regular vaginal discharge has left many sisters confused as to whether a) it is najis (impure) therefore requiring her to wash off undergarments and legs b) it breaks one's wuḍūʼ or not. Many sisters turn to one of the most trusted websites, islam-qa, to find answers about this embarrassing and complicated topic. Many of them, then, pass along the answers based on the fatawa posted on the site. Links to the fatwas are listed below the post.
To summarize the info in the links below, feminine discharge has been classified into the same categories as the discharge of males:
“The water (secretions) of a woman fall into the same categories as water secreted by a man; so maniy [semen; fluid emitted at the point of climax], madhiy [a fluid which is usually secreted as a result of sexual excitement] and wadhiy [a thick, white fluid which may come after urination or due to other reasons such as illness] are all secreted by her.”
It seems like wadhiy is what is considered a normal vaginal discharge, but, it is also assumed in some of the answers, that the vaginal discharge, other than sexual excitement, is only secreted on specific occasion like after urination or due to a disease.
In another fatwa there is specific distinction based on color and secretion. However, in this fatwa the wadhiy or the regular discharge which is named “moisture,” is not to be washed off the garments but it breaks wuḍūʼ.
After reading these sets of fatawa, I felt more bewildered than educated on this matter. In my humble opinion, male scholars, no matter how much they research about this subject, cannot fully comprehend the complexity of the situation since they don't experience it themselves. And as much as I love and respect the shayookh on that site, I must respectfully suggest that certain issues need to be taken under consideration before classifying vaginal discharge as a cause of breaking the wuḍūʼ.
First of all, let it be known that all women have vaginal discharge throughout the day. Some have more, some have less; some women always have white discharge and some have yellowish, and some may even have brownish. Additionally, this also varies based on many factors, like age, hormonal changes, marital status, birth control, pregnancy, stress, psychological tension, physical fatigue, ovulation etc. It would not be incorrect to state that anything and everything not only affects the amount secreted but even the color of it.
This information has been verified by different gynecologists, one of them being Dr. Lalani who answered regarding vaginal discharge:
“Regarding vaginal discharge, yes there is a physiologic or normal discharge that most women have. It can vary from person to person in quantity and quality and vary depending on timing in the menstrual cycle (discharge is greatest at midcycle).”
Keeping this in mind,
1. If regular vaginal discharge breaks wuḍūʼ, then it means that the majority of the women will have to renew their wuḍūʼ for almost each and every prayer. Having to renew wuḍūʼ for each prayer is usually required when a person is going through some sort of “abnormality” in their physique. However, if a discharge is normal, then how can a female be burdened with renewing her wuḍūʼ for almost every prayer? This basically implies that women cannot stay in the state of taharah (purity) most of the time. Not only it is a hardship upon women while they are staying inside their homes, but more so if they have to leave the house for shopping or traveling, etc. At times, it is difficult to find a spot to pray; now she must go around looking for a bathroom to renew her wuḍūʼ first!
2. Furthermore, if regular vaginal discharge were to be considered najs in addition to breaking wuḍūʼ, the hardship would be increased even more. How many times a day is it expected of Muslim females to change their undergarments? In the case of being outside her home, she must find a place to wash off her underwear first, then find a place to renew her wuḍūʼ, and then find a place to pray! In all honesty, I do not believe that Allāh azzawajal would subject women to this great difficulty, wAllahu ta'ala 'alam.
3. Based on the fatawa above, the vaginal discharge is further classified based on the color and texture. I believe women will easily acknowledge that this is an overly simplistic classification of a very complicated matter. Although, generally each woman knows her “regular” discharge, it can differ in its color and texture at different times of the same day depending on many factors like mental stress, physical stress, ovulation, PMS'ing, etc.
When I posed this question to Dr. Lalani, she answered:
“Yes this is definitely true. In my humble opinion, I don't think that the discharge of women can be compared to that of men, but I don't treat men, so if you know a Muslim urologist it may be helpful to get some input.”
4. Another point of classification mentioned in the above fatawa is the fact that female discharge is of two types, one secreting from urethra and the other from the uterus. The first being impure and the latter being pure. I posed this question to Dr. Lalani to find out if it was even practically possible for women to know which opening the discharge was secreted from, and her reply was:
“I think it is impossible to differentiate based on color or texture.”
If the rulings were so complicated, how would a normal-everyday-average-woman that is not knowledgeable about women's anatomy be able to cope!
5. In addition to the entire dilemma above, some sisters mentioned yet another predicament with regard to above rulings. What happens when females are at Hajj or Umrah? People are told to eat and drink less especially during hajj so they can maintain their wuḍūʼ for longer periods of time. How practical, during Hajj, is the implication of the ruling that regular vaginal discharge breaks wuḍūʼ! What can the majority of the women do to keep away from a discharge that is secreted from their body REGULARY and is out of their control? Especially during Hajj, a time when everyone is physically fatigued. During such fatigue, a woman's body is prone to increase its vaginal discharge, and can even change its color and texture based on the level of stress. Then how can it be expected of a woman to maintain her wuḍūʼ for longer periods of time, unless what is considered by some scholars a cause of breaking the wuḍūʼ, is actually not a cause to break the wuḍūʼ, wAllahu ta'ala 'alam.
Because of these factors, this predicament has left many Muslim women frustrated. Many sisters still struggle with distinguishing between the color of what marks the beginning and the end of their menstrual cycle, let alone knowing the different color/texture of daily vaginal discharge. Women of all ages, from young girls to older aunties, of various ethnicities, have discussed the dilemma of the inconsistency of the color of the discharge before and after menstruation. It is simply impossible to distinguish the color on a daily basis especially with such a sensitive situation where the prayer can be nullified based on the wrong judgment.
That is why, and Allāh knows best, I fear that digging too much into the color and texture is inviting complications upon ourselves, similar to how it was invited by inquiring too much about the color and texture of the cow. For many of us, this issue has raised more questions than answers. And that makes me think, and Allāh knows best, that there must be a reason why there is:
1. Lack of Textual Proof: There is no textual proof to make regular vaginal discharge a cause of breaking wuḍūʼ. If it was a cause then it would have been explicitly mentioned in at least one narration. It is interesting that there are many narrations explicitly mentioning a number of things breaking the wuḍūʼ, however, regular vaginal discharge has never been mentioned in any one of them.
2. Lack of Questions from the Women of Ansar: We always read about the enthusiasm of the women of the Ansar for learning their religion. It is narrated that Aisha, radiAllahu anha, said:
“How excellent are the women of the Ansar, shyness/modesty does not prevent them from understanding the religion.” (Bukhāri)
They would not leave matters in confusion, but would rather find a concrete answer even if it required sending their pads to the Prophet, sallallahu alaihi wasalam, to find out if their cycle had ended or not. Is it then logical that they would not specifically question about their regular vaginal secretion?
UNLESS, the discharge was considered so normal and regular that it was obvious that it did not break the wuḍūʼ. Perhaps, this situation was similar to the saliva in one's mouth and how swallowing it while fasting does not invalidate one's fast. But we don't find any explicit text explaining it neither do we find any companion questioning the Prophet, sallallahu alihi wasalam, about it. Maybe because it was common sense and obvious and that's why no one ever brought up this issue, wAllahu ta'ala 'alam.
It may have been the same reason why no female companion ever brought up the issue of regular vaginal discharge. And, maybe, it was considered common sense that classifying it as a cause to break wuḍūʼ would be a matter of great hardship, and Allāh doesn't intend hardship for us rather He makes matters easy. Similar to how the scholars concluded that since avoiding swallowing of the saliva is extremely difficult while fasting, and sharee'ah wards off unusual difficulty, then it must not be a cause to break one's fast. Likewise, marking vaginal discharge as a reason to break wuḍūʼ, doesn't correspond with the spirit of ease, for Allāh azzawajal said:
“Allāh intends for you ease, and He does not want to make things difficult for you” [2:185]
“Allāh does not want to place you in difficulty, but He wants to purify you, and to complete His Favor to you that you may be thankful” [5:6]
“and [Allāh] has not laid upon you in religion any hardship” [22:78]
If the textual proof had existed clearly distinguishing vaginal discharge as a cause for breaking wuḍūʼ, as is the case with the other actions that break wuḍūʼ and are mentioned clearly in a number of ahadeeth, then we would have withdrawn from the rational argument and would have “heard and obeyed” by Allāh's permission. However, the lack of textual evidence is a strong indication that there is room for logical reasoning.
Moreover, like any fiqhi matter, there is disagreement among the scholars on this issue too. And it seems that Shaikh Ibn Uthaimeen changed his opinion by the end of his life, as stated on Islamtoday.com:
“About vaginal discharge by Sheikh Yusuf al-Qasim: 'What comes from the vagina, emanating from the birth canal, is pure. It requires neither a ritual bath, nor wuḍūʼ, nor the washing of affected clothing. The reason for this is the absence of any textual evidence – to the extent of my knowledge – that indicates the impurity of this discharge or that it invalidates a woman's wuḍūʼ. This is very pertinent, especially since this discharge is something that affects all women, from the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) up to today. If it had been impure or if it had nullified wuḍūʼ, this would have been clarified by the Lawgiver. Also, this discharge is not a waste product – like urine and feces which are the waste products of our food and drink. It is a natural emanation from the womb. This is why it increases with pregnancy, especially during certain months. This ruling is the final opinion that Sheikh al-`Uthaymeen settled upon at the end of his life. It was also the view of Ibn Hazm. And Allāh knows best.'
About vaginal discharge by Sheikh Ahmad al-Khalîl: 'The moisture which comes out from women's vagina is a matter of disagreement among scholars. The most correct rule, in my opinion, is that it is pure and does not invalidate wuḍūʼ.'” (Answered by the Fatwa Department Research Committee – chaired by Sheikh `Abd al-Wahhab al-Turayrî)
As for the rulings over other vaginal discharge that is secreted during sexual excitement or intercourse is obviously understandable and applicable as it is occasional and is caused by certain actions that are controllable. Hence, if a woman has discharge during sexual thoughts, foreplay, kissing etc., without an orgasm, then she should renew her wuḍūʼ. And if she has intercourse, orgasm or a wet dream then she should make ghusal.
To conclude, I am in no position to give verdicts on Islamic rulings, neither is my knowledge anywhere close to the shayookh who have answered the questions in the links below. At the same time, I have not found any sister, so far, who finds the position of those shayookh, with regard to the REGULAR vaginal discharge, as sympathetic or an understanding approach towards female physique. I do believe that since it is a matter that our shayookh have not experienced themselves they cannot fully comprehend the difficulty of the situation, like they understood the situation of swallowing saliva during the fast. Nevertheless, I highly respect them and I understand that this is possibly another issue of ikhtilaf (disagreement). So if sisters choose to follow their position, by all means, the doors of differences of opinions have been left open and we must learn to agree to disagree on matters of fiqh. As for the sisters, who are confused and find the ruling difficult based on what has been discussed above, then they have a choice, in spirit of sharee'ah's assurance of ease and simplicity, to consider the REGULAR vaginal discharge as pure and not a reason to break the wuḍūʼ, wAllahu ta'ala 'alam.
Let me end the article with a note from Shaikh Yasir Qadhi:
“The issue of female vaginal discharges is one of those that appears to be different between 'theory' and 'existence'. Most male scholars simply assumed that it should take the same ruling as that of irregular male discharge (known as wady). This qiyas, in my humble opinion, is simply not warranted.
The average woman emits vaginal secretions throughout the day, albeit most do so in extremely minuscule quantities. Some are able to detect minor discharges, and it is these women who ask the status of wudhu after such a discharge.
Personally, while I do agree that a majority of our (male) scholars have historically considered this discharge to be najas, and to break the wudhu, I think that a feminine perspective is warranted on the issue. When so many women experience this discharge, and no textual evidence appears to indicate its status as najas, I believe that it is completely safe for a woman to follow the opinion that it does not affect the status of her wudhu. Nonetheless, if she were to take the majority opinion, just to be on the safe side, this would also be good.”